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Did you know that getting the right nutrition is as important as putting in the miles when you’re training for a marathon?

That’s right.

Just like any high-performance sport, your body needs the right type of fuel to perform at its best. So this means that you should eat high-quality, nutrition-rich foods that will keep you fit and healthy.

Remember…

The rate in which your body burns calories is dependent on factors like your gender, age, and intensity of your workout. That’s why the diet of a marathon runner is different from the one of the best NFL kicker for example.

Many runners make the mistake of overestimating the amount of calories that they’ve burnt and use this as an excuse to go all out with their meals.

Avoid this at all costs as this can actually lead to you putting on weight before your marathon.

So, use this calculator to get a rough idea of how many calories you’re actually burning when you train. And from there you’ll be able to get an idea of just how much calories you should be consuming.

With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at what types of food make up the ideal diet for a marathon runner.

Pre-marathon Training

1. Breakfast

As a rule of thumb, breakfasts should consist of light yet nutrition-rich food that will keep you going but not leave you feeling “heavy”.

While working out or running on an empty stomach does help you burn fat, it also deprives your body of much-needed fuel.

This can result in you “hitting the wall” which definitely isn’t great if you’re trying to rack up the miles.

So rather than running the risk of running out of fuel, you should instead go for a compromise. Fuel up on a light but nutritious breakfast such as the ones we’ve outlined here:

  • Eggs and a banana
  • Wholemeal toast and peanut butter with an avocado
  • Oatmeal with some blueberries
  • An energy bar

2. Lunch

Come midday, chances are your body is starting to feel major hunger pangs. And while it may be tempting to grab something quick, hold that thought.

Lunch is actually a great opportunity for you to prepare your body for your evening workout, which is why you should skip the carb and load up on vegetables and protein.

Fun fact: while we often hear how important carb is for runners, protein is also equally important for a marathon runner. That’s because protein forms the building blocks of your muscles and encourages recovery.

As you run, your body breaks down muscles that need to be repaired and replaced.

And if that wasn’t enough, protein keeps you full for longer and stabilizes your sugar levels – meaning that you won’t feel sluggish or sleep after lunch.

Ideally, load up on meals such as:

  • Grilled/roasted chicken breast with tossed salad
  • Pan-fried salmon with greens
  • Quinoa bowl with black beans and chicken
  • Turkey sandwich and a protein shake

3. Snacks

When training for a marathon, snacks are particularly important as they keep you topped up and help kill those hunger pangs.

While there are no “good” or “bad” foods per say, your main focus should be on healthy snacks that are rich in nutrition and low on bad calories.

Let’s take a look at potato chips and cucumbers as a snack for example. Both are crunchy and great snacks to have with you.

But remember: 100 calories worth of potato chips contain salt and added sugars which can be bad for your health.

Meanwhile, snacking on cucumbers will load you up with vitamins, nutrition, and even keep you hydrated. That way, you’re ready and raring to go when it’s time for your evening run.

Here are some healthy snacks that marathon runners swear by:

  • Yoghurt and berries
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Cucumbers

4. Dinner

After a long day of working out and running, it’s important that you give your body everything it needs to recover.

Pile on good carbohydrates like brown rice and quinoa to build up your glycogen stores and pack on proteins like beef or chicken to help your muscles recover.

If carbs aren’t really your thing, you can stock up on nutrient-rich foods like avocados, nuts, and beans to help your body refuel.

Ideally, your dinner should look something like this:

  • Stir-fried beef steak with quinoa/brown rice and tossed salad
  • Grilled chicken breast with eggs and arugula
  • Turkey sandwich with butterhead lettuce
  • Pesto pasta with chicken breast

Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout your day. Keep a water bottle on hand and make sure to take regular sips of water.

If your body is dehydrated, you’ll perform poorly and run the risk of overheating your body or falling sick.

The bottom line

Nutrition is key to crossing the finish line in top form as the right food will fuel you up and keep you healthy.

Read up on the basics of sports nutrition and you’ll be surprised to see why good food is so important to a runner.